Walking with Anthony Schrag

I spent a lovely few hours last Friday walking with Anthony Schrag ,who is journeying on foot in a Contemporary Pilgrimage from Huntly in Aberdeenshire to the Venice Biennale. It was starting to rain when we met at Bonchester Bridge, but not even heavy showers affected our enjoyment of the walk and chat. We talked of art and gender, belief systems and rites of passage as we made our way towards the Cheviot Hills, bearing in mind that the land we were traversing would have been classed as dangerous territory a few hundred years ago. Buzzards occasionally circling above us, seemed to emphasise that point.

Anthony, with so many miles to cover, has to maintain a certain pace each day but as we were making good time, he agreed to walk slowly with me in the last few hundred metres to the English border at Carter Bar. It was quite surreal going so slowly, one footstep at a time, with traffic on the A68 whizzing past. He is pondering where the art is in the walk to Venice. I think it is in the experience, in the walking and meeting, talking and relating. Just being in the world walking, being open to whatever arises in the moment is an art in itself. And who knows, when we are really present and aware of the land we are walking through, where the creative impulse will take us?

With Anthony Schrag at his first border crossing

 

 

 



Woodland Crossing – A Saltire in the Woods

Woodland Crossing is the new piece I’m working on following the walking event in Dunbar Community Woodland.

 

 

Read more about the project at North Light Arts

 

 

 

 



Invisible steps

I’ve been walking in the woodland, measuring the distance of the paths by the number of my steps and timing my journey along them. However, when I walk slowly and mindfully, my pedometer does not register my steps. It’s as if I haven’t moved. So, perhaps I really am walking in stillness…….



Community Woodland Project

It was in the middle of winter that I first visited Lochend Woods in Dunbar, a grey and bitingly cold Sunday morning. I was not feeling inspired and was about to give up and go home when it started to snow and then hail very hard. Taking shelter in the trees, I was struck by a new magical atmosphere all around me, something of the spirit of the place seemed to be speaking to me.

Hail in the Woods

 

When the hail stopped, I walked out onto a spot where four paths crossed in the centre of the wood and I began to formulate an idea……….

 

 

 

Since that day, I have been back to the woods many times and have seen that meeting point change with the seasons as I have become more familiar with the paths.

 

 

In a week’s time four groups of people will walk very slowly along the four different paths until they meet at the centre and move around each other in order to travel on.

A lot of work has been done already and more still to do……

 

 

 



Slow Pace Living

My film Slowly Ascending was the starting point for a discussion on Slow Pace Life at the John Gray Centre. It was great to see the film on a big screen after months of looking at it on my laptop. It really benefits from being in a darkened space. The audience had more of an immersive experience and some, having rushed to come straight from work, commented on how they felt themselves become calmer just watching the slow rhythmic movement onscreen.

 

 

Some of the walk participants spoke of their experience in walking slowly and how it was necessary to surrender their own will and become part of the group, moving at someone else’s pace. Once they let go they relaxed and noticed the smell of the grass or the sound of the birds. For Anna, it sparked her creativity and, without her camera, she was able to begin taking mental snapshots that evolved into a haibun.

There are moments in the film where we are swaying and rocking as we walk, moving seemingly as one. From a distance, in our high-viz jackets and black leggings, looking like a caterpillar inching its way across the landscape. For Pam, it felt as if the rest of the world was moving too quickly and we were the only ones who had the pace right. Other walkers passed by, most hardly bothering to look but the children stopped and stared and we could hear one asking “Are they hypnotised, Mum?”

It does seem strange to do things slowly in the world today. Our lives are governed by the clock, by the need to get things done and not miss out on all the opportunities we have presented to us. Yet in rushing we miss out on so much anyway, loosing contact with ourselves and getting caught in the “options paralysis” that too much choice brings. “‘Tis a gift to be simple” as the words of the old song go.

I was reflecting on this earlier today as I was making hot cross buns for the Easter weekend. It is a slow process, you can’t hurry the rising dough. You have to shut the kitchen door and give your full attention to what you’re doing. It’s a lovely ritual, like making the mince pies at Christmas or jam in the summer and it’s a ritual that provides a break in the frenetic and constant pace of contemporary life and brings us back to the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Editing

Security issues with the website have kept me from posting for a while but now that they are sorted I can write here again.

So much has happened since my last entry. Two wonderful slow walking events, Walking to Nowhere in August and the Slow Ascent of North Berwick Law on the Autumnal Equinox. Neil Barton’s camera work was fantastic. I am still working on editing, getting to grips with both a new computer and a new editing programme.

Here is a still image from the work in progress. At this point in the walk, we were just emerging from the shadow of the low path into the sunlight, which made Ray’s jacket almost translucent. The air was clear and cool and we could see our breath.

 



The Bridge to Nowhere

The Bridge to Nowhere spans the Biel Water as it reaches the sea at Belhaven Bay, near Dunbar. At low tide it is possible to walk over it onto the sands beyond.

 

At high tide however, the bridge is completely cut off and stands eeerily on its own in the middle of the sea, leading to nowhere.

 

 

At low tide on the morning of 4th August I will be leading a slow and silent walk over the bridge in a piece of work for the “North Light Festival” .

 

 



Pilgrimage

I read a really interesting and pertinent article in “The Guardian”



Walking and Sticking

Gordon who is a fisherman and chair of the local history group in Dunbar, told me a story. When he was young, he lived in a house that looked across the harbour. The fishermen used to go up onto the rocks and tar their lobster pots (made of natural materials then and liable to rot) and thick ropes. The hot tar spilled over and the rocks became black as it set. This was fine until hot summer days when unwitting visitors to the harbour would clamber over the black rocks. The tar began to melt and it was great fun for Gordon and the other lads to watch the people as they became stuck, pulling and dragging their feet as they tried to walk away. It reminds me very much of that Slowalk experience when we were rooted to our lines for two hours. Though I’m sure no one on that walk went to the shop afterwards to buy margarine to rub on the soles of their shoes in an attempt to ease movement, as the hapless visitors sometimes did!

The practice of tarring the lobster pots and ropes has long since died out, but the traces of the fishermen’s work remain in solidified ripples and rivulets of tar.

Tar ripples

 

 

 



Slowalk at AV Festival

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to write about my experience of Hamish Fulton’s  Slowalk here. I’ve written in my journal and talked for hours about it, but I sometimes feel shy about revealing my writing to a wider world.

It really wasn’t at all as I expected. When we arrived at the site on Spiller’s Wharf there was an air of anticipation as people, dressed like us in dark clothes, were standing around chatting. Each of us was asked to stand at one end of the white line of a car parking space. Travelling to the end of it, only two or three metres, was to be our journey for the next two hours. Less a slow walk and more an imperceptible shuffle, as we all had to try and reach the end at the same time. I felt guilty for encouraging Liz to come with me. But how many other medical students get the chance to participate in artworks in their spare time? At least she had her auntie’s thick black coat. And we needed warm clothing! Down by the river the wind was bitter at times.


Liz, in the middle, on her line before the walk

 

At the beginning I was very conscious of the time and every tiny movement I made, hoping I wasn’t going too fast. We were advised that we should divide the line into segments, so that we would know where we should be after each half hour. I became fascinated by the marks on my line, in particular the little dancing figure I could see in the centre that told me the half way point. It was like the shapes and faces I used to see in wallpaper and kitchen tiles when I was little.

Oh to be free to move like a dancer! It struck me that we had all surrendered our freedom for the duration of this piece and how, when we are constrained, we appreciate the little things, everyday things that we normally take for granted. I was really concentratedly aware of being in that space at that time. Every little stretch to ease the growing stiffness was a significant gesture. When the sun shone it was wonderful, warming my back.

People find their way around constraint and uniformity. Though there were rules – the dark clothes, no talking, no phones, no cameras during the two hours – and we were all doing the same thing, everyone did it in their own way. The girl next to me a little faster than everyone else; the woman opposite surreptitiously pulling an extra jacket from her backpack and putting it on; the woman who turned her face like a flower towards the sun when it shone. It reminded me of de Certeau and The Practice of Everyday Life.

The dancing figure

 

It was strange, but the time passed quickly. I was on the edge of the car park, with my back to the river, so I had a great view of the space. There was one poor soul on the other side who was walking with her back to everyone else and must have had a more solitary experience. Though none of us spoke, the sense of solidarity was palpable, especially as we were reaching the end. We all wanted it to work, so much so that there were looks of disbelief as one person left with minutes to go. I could hear one of the AV stewards behind me hissing under her breath “Are you sure? You’re going to spoil the whole thing!” I hoped it didn’t spoil the filming.

As we neared three o’clock, I watched with even greater interest the movements of the people whose lines were converging. Would they really end up nose to nose? Some did little slow dances to avoid or accommodate the others. For a moment, I envied them that intensity of having to be so close. It would have been a different kind of challenge for me if I had stood in the centre of the car park like them. So much about boundaries and utterly fascinating!

But I wasn’t in their space, I was in mine and it was great to be able to see what was going on. Apparently, I beamed the whole time! A woman came up to me afterwards and said “ Lady in the purple coat, it was lovely to watch you smiling all the way through!”

A gong sounded and it was all over. The first few normal steps felt very strange, reminding me of the feeling I had when the plaster was taken off after I had broken my ankle. Almost as if I wasn’t sure how to walk properly. I had hoped for some sort of collective ending to acknowledge what we had all accomplished together, but the group dispersed into smaller groups and then we were asked to fill in feedback sheets. This was too soon and seemed to break the profundity of the moment, but it was good to see Tom, whom I’d met in Dunbar, and who was an AV volunteer. I did appreciate being able to speak about it to him and to Liz and one or two others we met as we made our way back along the Quayside, but being so cold and stiff and near the experience, I don’t think my words were very coherent. I was also in a space where words seemed superfluous and I was just full of wonder and maybe not quite back in the outside world. Perhaps that is why I’ve left it till now to write here!